Traditional stage magic shows might have once had a reputation for being archaic and outdated, but a wave of illusionists flocking to the Fringe over the past few years have made it their mission to change that. Hypnotist Aaron Calvert has a slick presentation style and some mindgames up his sleeve, but Declassified doesn’t do anything to make major waves in hypnotism as a form of entertainment.
Calvert is a mentalist from Manchester who, after training to become a doctor, decided to drop it all and go into mindreading and altering states of consciousness. With a sharp suit and commanding stage presence, he certainly has the charisma to lure the audience into a trance, with a careful bedside manner that assures them that what will happen is a unique experience. He promises that he won’t embarrass anyone by making them cluck like a chicken as he brings half-hypnotised volunteers on stage to become part of the show.
The stage is littered with old storage boxes representing files that the current U.S. administration has declassified on psychic powers, setting the tone of the show with a couple of odd news reports projected onto the screen. These TV news excerpts are shown by Calvert to inform us how stories of the supernatural are exacerbated by news media, poor research and hearsay. His running commentary on the theme has levity and humour to it, but it comes off quite stilted and forced in comparison to his boisterous interactions with audience members.
He has the same mentality as many illusionists today that your validity will be proven if you present yourself as a cynic, but the amount of explanation and convincing he places on the crowd makes him come off as a budget Derren Brown. The comparison might seem unfair, but it isn’t helped by the pre-show promotion of his Channel 4 programme Hello Stranger.
Even if you aren’t thrilled by Declassified, Calvert is undoubtedly fantastic at marketing himself. A rapport with the audience is important and he has the right personality to craft one, but his actual acts of mindreading and mentalism seem quite run of the mill. Illusions can be amazing and wondrous things that have you questioning the fabric of reality itself, but there isn’t anything here that you haven’t seen before. His showmanship, crowd-work and the technical portions of the show all highlight the potential he has as an entertainer, but to stand out on his own he will need to rock the boat and prove there’s something fresh worth being put under a spell for.